Holistic weight-loss startup from Chicago fights obesity and chronic health diseases

By April 27, 2018

Raw food diets, the paleo diet, the Atkins diet. The ways to lose weight may be endless but they often seem to have scarce scientific backing behind them. Chicago-based startup Retrofit, which has just been bought by Livongo health, has taken a new, personalised approach to weight loss.

The company, founded in 2011 by Jeff Hyman, doesn’t just focus on the traditional ways to lose weight, such as food and exercise, but treats the body as a whole. Nutrition and physical activity obviously play a large part, but an equal focus is given to the mindset, which is the motivator behind both.

The program uses data analysis and human interaction to create a customised plan for the user’s needs and preferences. The idea is to change behaviours and create lifestyle patterns that work for the individual, focusing on small incremental changes that are sustainable to the user’s lifestyle.

Time published an article saying that of the participants of American weight-loss show ‘Biggest Loser,’ although many lost staggering amounts of weight, 13 out of 14 gained an average of 66% of their weight back soon after the show.

One of the main differences between Retrofit and most online weight loss programs is that they provide one-to-one coaching sessions with a registered dietician, an exercise psychologist and a behaviour coach. These experts are chosen out of the top 10% in their field, and give personalised support with specific needs, whether it be reducing snacks or even understanding the trigger for emotional eating behaviours.

However, there is a steep fee for this service, as monthly prices start at $248, but they can also be provided through gyms and other organisations, and some needs-based scholarships are available for those with a BMI over 25.  Mohanjit Jolly, managing director of venture capital firm DFJ, invested $6 million in the entreprise, and a statement was reported in BizJournals about his belief in Retrofit’s goals.

“Retrofit’s mission is a big one: to reverse the course of the obesity epidemic by addressing the underlying physical and psychological hurdles of losing weight,” said Jolly. “The passionate team at the company has demonstrated in just a short time how powerful the platform can be in changing lives for the better, and we firmly believe in the power of data-driven weight loss as a massive market opportunity.”

Digital chronic disease management company Livongo announced on the 17 April that it had acquired Retrofit, hoping to use the company to help fight against the chronic diseases that are associated with obesity, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Mobihealthonline reported the story, and CEO of Retrofit Mary Pigatti wrote in a statement that the two companies will provide help for many.

“Retrofit and Livongo are like-minded in strategy, values and culture,” she said. “Together, we will provide a comprehensive set of solutions for the prevention and treatment of chronic conditions that address the whole person.”

The two companies hope to be able to give more personalised help for those suffering from chronic weight-related diseases, as well as preventing them in those who are at risk.

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions across the world, and in the US more than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese, according to a study carried out by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which places huge economic pressure on the health system.

This is also a growing problem among young people and children, among whom 1 in 6 are considered to be obese. This could lead to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems and gallstones, among other conditions. PublicHealth website notes that the American Heart Association warns that today’s children might be the first generation in US history to lead shorter and less healthy lives than their parents.

There are a plethora of weight loss companies out there, and Weight Watchers was the original that started the calorie-counting craze. Although still a large player in the $60 billion dollar weight loss market, CheatSheet reports that their shares have been falling steadily since 2015, mainly due to a large amount of competition. There are also many free apps and programs that can monitor weight, track calories, and send you encouraging messages when you’re heading towards that packet of crisps.

As well as this, Business Insider reports that Weight Watchers’ calorie counting premise doesn’t actually promote healthy eating, and isn’t supported by the latest nutritional science. They go on to explain that people are moving away from diets and focusing more on wellness, or lifestyle choices that are more likely to result in lasting changes. Additionally, culture is finally starting to alleviate the massive pressure to be thin, and encouraging people to focus more on feeling happy and healthy rather than having to fit into a certain size of jeans.

As pressure to combat obesity in a sustainable way is gaining more traction than the crash diets of previous decades, programs such as Retrofit will fit in with these desires. However, with the high price tag, many will have to keep their eye out for others solutions that don’t leave such a large hole in the wallet.